In light of recent world events, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has been a subject of much discussion in the news. However, it is not only troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from PTSD. Healthcare workers from many different disciplines are seeing increased numbers of patients from all walks of life presenting symptoms of PTSD. Many of those who are seeking help with PTSD prefer alternative or natural approaches to ease some of burdens of the affliction. Massage therapists and other “body-workers” are increasingly being called upon to offer some solace to those suffering from the emotional and physical devastation of PTSD.
It has been estimated that 70% of the adults in the US have experienced a trauma severe enough to result in PTSD. These events can be military combat, a terrorist attack, natural disasters, a violent crime, or horrific accident. Of those who have gone through such an event, about 8% of men, and 20% of women will go on to develop PTSD. PTSD is a complex disorder, with long ranging consequences. A person with PTSD is unable to “let go” of the traumatic episode they have witnessed or experienced, and they relive it again and again. Typical symptoms of a person with PTSD will include:
- Flashbacks and Nightmares
- Difficulty sleeping
- A feeling of detachment or distance
- Chronic pain or fatigue
How Can Massage Help?
According to Western medicine, the symptoms of PTSD are the result of imbalances in brain chemicals triggered by emotional stress. These chemicals, including neurotransmitters such as serotonin, affect behavior, feelings and cognition. By reliving the traumatic event, people with PTSD are always in a heightened state of anxiety. The brain is unable to turn off the “Fight or Flight” response, and their bodies are constantly flooded with stress hormones that cause not only emotional, but physical pain, as muscles are constantly tensed for action. Massage therapy and other bodywork such as Reiki, or Tui Na, can not only relax tensed muscles and ease the physical pain, they can trigger the body’s relaxation response, breaking the cycle of fight or flight.
Massage therapy is an excellent addition to an overall treatment plan for sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress disorder. Once a person is able to relax through massage, circulation improves, sleep patterns can return to normal, and a more relaxed patient is more open to other modalities such as talk therapy that can help them resolve the issues at the root of his or her PTSD.